The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) expresses its grave concern over the recent intimidation of Haitian attorneys who represent government critics, which has included death threats, judicial harassment, and a report that Haiti’s top justice official ordered the arrest of three.
The arrest orders came to light last week when Jean-Renel Senatus, the former chief prosecutor of Port-au-Prince, reported that he was fired by Minister of Justice Jean-Renel Sanon for refusing to illegally arrest 36 people. Included among those targeted were lawyers Newton St. Juste and Andre Michel, who have filed corruption claims against the family of President Michel Martelly. Also named was Mario Joseph, Haiti’s leading human rights lawyer.
The NLG is particularly affected by the attacks against Mr. Joseph, who is managing attorney of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), Haiti’s largest public interest law firm, which has represented victims of state repression for decades. Mr. Joseph is also a member of an NLG partner organization, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and is a regular speaker at NLG events. Over the past few months, Mr. Joseph and the BAI have come under increasing pressure from the Haitian government in the form of police surveillance, threats broadcast on the radio, and an unjustified summons to a court hearing. Mr. Joseph has also received multiple anonymous telephone death threats and the BAI office walls have been painted with hostile graffiti.
The independence of lawyers is a prerequisite to democracy and human rights and is a cornerstone for the rule of law. Accordingly, the NLG calls on:
1) the Haitian government to respect the independence of lawyers, to immediately cease harassment against them, and to ensure that any intimidation of lawyers by private actors is duly investigated and prosecuted;
2) the U.S. government, which is the Martelly Administration’s largest financial and diplomatic supporter and which played an active role in securing the election of President Martelly in 2011, to ensure that the Haitian government does not persecute government critics or the lawyers who represent them; and
3) the United Nations, particularly the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which provides substantial financial, diplomatic, and security support to the Martelly Administration, to provide protection to threatened dissidents and to help build the capacity of the Haitian government to respect the rights of government critics and their lawyers.
Founded in 1937, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has members in every state.
The NLG has a long history of representing individuals whose rights have been violated by governments, in the U.S. and abroad. The NLG prepared the first two major human rights reports following the February 2004 coup d’état against Haiti’s elected government. NLG members have represented Haitians seeking political asylum in the U.S. and have brought suits in U.S. courts and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of victims of political persecution in Haiti.